Idiot Joy Showland

This is why I hate intellectuals

Tag: travelogue

Nowhereland

When he was a child, David Rosenthal had a small aquarium with two fish. He’d given them names: Lucy and Dotty. One day, without warning, Lucy had changed into a male. He started chasing Dotty around the tank in ever-tightening circles, frantically, weaving around the ceramic sunken galleon and the limp straggly plants and the conch shell a previous fish had swum into to die. That had been unexpected. For a few days the aquarium water was cloudy with eggs. David had watched as a few tiny specks of matter slowly uncoiled themselves into darting little things with shining eyes and sad gulping mouths. He’d named them too. Then, Lucy killed and ate his entire litter. That had also been unexpected. David was upset for a while, but not for long. They were only fish, after all.
A few years later, David started to realise that Lucy and Dotty had no idea that they were called Lucy and Dotty. They didn’t care about him, or the entertainment they gave him, or the little domestic narratives he’d constructed around them. They were machines for making more fish, and everything they did could be explained in terms of that fact – even Lucy’s massacre of his children. It was the same with all animals. A bird was beautiful, but it was just a machine for making more birds. A dog was friendly, but it was just a machine for making more dogs. Even human beings were ultimately just machines for making more humans, and everything they’d built and done was just a big complex attempt to disguise that fact. David didn’t want to be a machine. He didn’t know exactly what he did want to do, but he knew, instinctively, with a certainty located somewhere between his colon and his navel, that one David Rosenthal was enough.

David Rosenthal first discovered Transporenia while trying not to stare at Jean Parson’s arse in the Szent István-bazilika. This was no small task. Cherubs and saints were glancing ruefully at her from every cornice. Even the Virgin Mary’s expression of chaste benevolence seemed to dissolve for a moment into a twisting confusion of envy and lust as she walked past. Jean and Craig were dawdling behind Alexandra as she strode around the cathedral, solemnly reciting long passages from the Global Traveller’s City Guide to Budapest, dithering for a while over the reliquary, cooing at the organ, running her hand over the architectural details. Suddenly feeling very Jewish, David had sat down on a pew to catch his breath. With nothing else between him and the pneumatically cadenced bobbing of Jean Parson’s arse except the prayer book, which was written entirely in Hungarian, he began to flick through his disintegrating copy of Eastern Europe on a Shoestring 2009, which he’d stolen from a bookshop as an undergraduate and taken on nearly every holiday since. Leafing through the various descriptions of Balkan cities with absurd monosyllabic names – Vłod, Prag, Čup, Splat, Bread – he found, near the end, a small section he didn’t recall having read before.

The small territory of TRANSPORENIA (also known as ‘the country that doesn’t exist’) is unlikely to be of interest to any but the most diehard travellers. With its hammer-and-sickle flag, disintegrating high-rise buildings, ubiquitous portraits of long-standing dictator President Bogarikov, and diplomatic isolation from much of the rest of the world, it has the dubious honour of being the last place in Europe still behind the Iron Curtain. While a de facto sovereign state, Transporenia’s independence from Moldova is not recognised by any bodies other than the disputed polities of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, along with the Palestinian Authority. Nonetheless, several thousand Russian soldiers are stationed within its borders. For those brave enough to visit, minibuses regularly depart from Chişinău and other Moldovan cities. Tourist visas can be obtained at the border, although horror stories abound of innocent travellers detained and questioned for hours before being granted entrance. The capital (and only) city Suvorovigrad has some sites of interest: along with a moving abstract memorial to the victims of the War of Transporenia, it is home to the Transporenian National Museum, several ancient Greek archaeological sites, and a spectacular tank graveyard not far outside the city, where hundreds of abandoned Army vehicles are slowly disintegrating. Accommodation is limited to small guesthouses and the towering Hotel Rimniksky, a decaying Soviet relic. Be warned, though: Transporenian roubles are not exchangeable outside the country, and a Transporenian stamp in your passport may cause problems with Moldovan border authorities if you choose to leave.

David didn’t say much at dinner that night. They ate in an obsequiously hip restaurant in Várnegyed, with abstract expressionist paintings hanging off 14th Century walls. A deconstructed veal palacsinta with tejföl foam was artfully arranged on his plate. As Alexandra talked David picked at it miserably. The entire holiday had been one slowly unfolding catastrophe. He had always assumed that what he and Alex had was somehow normal and to be expected – the rows, the silences, the resentment, the sexlessness. But it showed – painfully, embarrassingly. Objectively speaking, they ought to have been the perfect couple: they liked all the same things – Kandinsky, Calvino, the Velvet Underground, organic coffee, drugs on the weekend – and they disliked all the same things as well – themselves, each other. Meanwhile Jean and Craig seemed to be comfortably, cheerfully in love. It was infuriating.
That night, in the cream-coloured hotel room, he could just hear the steady thud of Jean and Craig fucking next door. He drew himself closer to Alex. She pushed him away with an ineffectual hand.
“Oh, knock it off,” she said. “Not tonight. It’s been a long day.”
David hadn’t really wanted to either, although he felt somehow as if he ought to have. He laid back and thought of Transporenia.

David Rosenthal had been three years old when the Berlin Wall was torn down. As his parents watched the reportage, David had drawn himself right up to the TV screen until the crowd fell apart into a mess of dancing red, blue and green dots. For once, they hadn’t pulled him away.
“What are all the people doing?” he’d asked.
His parents had tried to give him a comprehensible account of the history of Actually Existing Socialism. It left him even more confused.
“But why were they in prison?” he said. “Had they been bad?”
“Yes,” his father said. “They’d been very bad indeed.”
“Oh, don’t,” his mother said. “That was a long time ago. The main thing, David, is that all these people were locked up for no reason by some very mean leaders, and now they’re free. Just like us.”
David Rosenthal never found out about the War of Transporenia that was fought three years later. The world’s attention was for the most part focused on the far more glamorous wars breaking out in the former Yugoslavia, and David’s attention was for the most part focused on a gang of wise-talking crime-fighting cartoon animals called the Action Power Justice Squad.

As a teenage socialist, David regretted his unthinking acceptance that the Warsaw Pact had been one big prison camp, feeling somehow as if his three-year old self should have had enough intrinsic knowledge of historical materialism to leap to the defence of the Soviet experiment. Later on, it was his mother’s blithe assurance that the people of the East were free ‘just like us’ that troubled him. He could see that freedom everywhere around him in Budapest. The sweeping banks of ancient brown-stained buildings frowned on his countrymen as they surged through the city’s broad streets, babbling in Mockney accents, gulping down Dutch and Danish beer for two Euros a pint, streaming in and out of McDonald’s restaurants, forming tributaries that lapped in and out of crooked alleys, leaving intertidal zones of broken glass and the stench of piss. Just like us. David felt like a rat in a cage, scurrying about for some great unknown’s idle amusement.
Transporenia would be different. In Transporenia, David knew, there would be no plasticky fast-food restaurants, no bulky luxury developments, no thudding euro-house. In Transporenia there would be something entirely different to what he’d known his entire life, something that with its little Cold War timewarp broke the unwritten rules of the mundanely artificial world, something genuine. Everything in Hungary had turned into a replica of itself; the whole country had been desiccated, stripped of signification, freeze-dried into a saleable tourist attraction. Only Transporenia, the country that didn’t exist, could be real.
He told the others about the place over breakfast the next day.
“That’s fascinating,” said Jean. “To think there are still places like that. I had no idea.”
“The poor people,” said Alex. “It must be awful.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said David. “You’ve seen the poverty here. There wasn’t any homelessness in the Soviet Union, you know.”
“Yeah,” said Alex. “Anyone could find a home in the gulags.”
Jean stared fixedly at her plate.
“We could go,” said David. “It’d be a change from the usual. We could do some real exploring.”
“Doubt you can get a flight there from Heathrow,” said Craig. “Bit of an effort, isn’t it?” He prodded his meal. “Don’t think you could get food like this there either.”
“We’d probably have to queue for bread,” said Jean.
“We could go now,” said David. “We’ve got the car. And it’s not that far. Manchester to Paris, maybe. I looked at the map.”
“I mean, what’s the economy even based on there?” said Craig. He pulled a mock-serious face. “Ve are number one of exporting pig-iron in entire of region!
Alex pursed her lips. “Oh, Davey. Don’t be ridiculous. We’ve already got the whole itinerary.” She gave a grin of blinding falseness. “One to think about for next time, though, isn’t it?”
They all agreed. One to think about, definitely. Wouldn’t it be an adventure.
David tried not to talk too much about Transporenia for the rest of the day, not necessarily succeeding. All the while it fizzed in his mind. As they strolled down Andrássy Avenue, the leaves of the gently fluttering trees almost seemed to melt and run together, hardening and darkening, turning rust-coloured as they shrunk down to the ground, until he was walking down an endless line of wrecked T-64 tanks. The elegantly neo-Gothic towers of the Fisherman’s Bastion moulted their whiteness as they spun like clay on a potter’s wheel, growing taller and boxier, their delicate traceries weaving themselves into flaking balconies bristling with TV antennae. His mind was already halfway in Transporenia. He had to go.

It turned out to have been another long day. David watched the BBC with the volume off as Alexandra changed for bed.
“I think you should go,” she said suddenly, standing in jeans and a bra. “You’ve been acting like this- like a petulant child the whole holiday. Clearly this Transporenia means more to you than your friends. Than your own girlfriend. So go.”
David didn’t say anything. He walked over to the minibar and poured himself a glass of whiskey from a tiny plastic bottle.
“I knew this was happening, you know…” Alex gave a bitter little laugh. “But fool I am, I thought it would at least be another woman. Not some shithole East European- some nowhereland. But of course. I’m an idiot.”
“It’s not like that. It’s not.”
“No?”
“Come with me.”
Alex’s mouth flapped open. “Why? Why on earth would I want to? So I can watch you can be a miserable prima donna against a different backdrop? Christ no. I know what you want. Go on. Go to Transporenia.”
David downed his drink. Alex flopped down onto the bed. “Just don’t expect to find me waiting for you when you get back,” she said.
David Rosenthal left the hotel early in the morning, without leaving so much as a note, settled the bill, and took the first train to Moldova.

Chişinău sprawled out under a wispy-grey sky. The minibuses to Transporenia were departing from the middle of a crowded market in the centre of town. David walked semi-dazed through it, taking a few joyless bites from a train station pastry in which a few gristly chunks of meat waddled in their oleaginous matrix. Corrugated-iron stalls were piled high with flourescent-coloured produce: iPhone cases arranged in a brightly chequered mosaic, shellsuits rippling like velvet robes in the breeze, fake branded t-shirts strung heraldically along the lintels. One or two sold Orthodox icons, the saints and patriarchs looking glum in their fading wooden cages, resigned to their slow defeat at the hands of the gleefully kaleidoscopic tat surrounding them. Just like us. Transporenia would be different.
A man with a bald head and a Stalin moustache was smoking a cigarette by the side of a humming white minibus.
“Suvorovigrad?” David asked.
“Suvorovigrad,” he confirmed, pronouncing it correctly. He held up both hands. “Zece euro. Sută și șaizeci lei.”
The bus was mostly occupied by old women in shawls, spitting sunflower seed shells on the floor and coughing fricatives into their mobile phones. It idled for about half an hour as a few stragglers filed on; when they set off the sky was already darkening. Mopeds buzzed around the minibus as it crawled through the city traffic, past half-finished office buildings with reflective blue glass façades, churches sliding into entropic perfection, shabby apartment complexes. For the first time since he’d left, David thought of Alex. What was she doing? Crying, dejected, alone? Not her style; Alex was tough, she’d always been tough. Dancing in the sweaty embrace of some Hungarian Lothario? The thought didn’t trouble him at all. He was happy for her. The bus hummed. He wafted, smiling a little, into sleep.

The Transporenian border was marked by a long barbed-wire fence running over the overgrown hills just before the Tsporeno, a broad muddy river as placid and still as a lurking crocodile. A pair of bored-looking Moldovan soldiers waved the bus towards a low steel structure that crouched over the half-paved road by the bridge like a latticed spider; rusting letters hanging from one face reading Транспорэниа. Inside, David was made to surrender his passport and given a three-month visa form in English and Transporenian. The Transporenians wanted to know his name and address, where he planed to stay in the country, whether he had ever been divorced, and if he was taking any psychiatric medication. Stamped in large letters on the top and bottom of the form were the words VISA VOID IF BEARER ACQUIRES TRANSPORENIAN ONTOLOGY.
As David handed his form in at a window, one of the babushkas reached from behind him and rapped on the glass.
“Americanul,” she said. “Engleză. Infliltrat.”
The border official, a thin man with round glasses, gave a weary frown. “Nyet, nyet. Zatknis. Slăbește-mă.” He handed back the form and David’s passport. “I am sorry. She is Moldovan. Welcome to Transporenia.”
David was almost disappointed. Something about the idea of being detained and interrogated at the border had appealed to him. He’d had a hunch that being forced to reveal his secret intentions with a light shining in his face would be a more revelatory, more cathartic, and less expensive experience than a session with his psychoanalyst. As they set off again the air taste sharp, as if it were charged with electricity, and David thought for a moment that he could see a shimmering bluish curtain of light hanging above the middle of the bridge. When they crossed he felt a throbbing just under his skin, coming in three quick waves that spread from his fingers and toes to his abdomen. He put it down to excitement. Some of the old ladies tittered. And then he was in Transporenia.
The land was shrouded in gloom now. As they drove through the Transporenian countryside ghostly objects reared up by the roadside. A pile of haystacks by a shack built from furrowed wooden beams and plastic sheeting. Signs in Cyrillic, some still crisscrossed with lines of bullet-holes. Rusted tractors and harvesters, looking skeletally saurian in their overgrown fields. After twenty minutes, with the orange lights of Suvorovigrad glowing clammily in the low clouds, they stopped at a Russian army checkpoint. The black shapes of a few dozen tanks were hunched over by the roadside, prognathic turrets jutting towards Moldova. The soldiers all wore gas masks; the torches on their helmets swept across the night like errant moths. David began to worry. He’d expected to find a Transporenia tailor-suited to counter his neuroses about the rest of the world. Instead he’d swapped the ennui of Budapest for a place filled with menace. Transporenia would be different.

Suvorovigrad wasn’t really much of city. It lay low, skirting the hills surrounding it almost entirely, like a puddle of light; as if it had coalesced when some demiurge poured out a cosmic beaker of urban slop into the valley, with only a few drops splashing onto the higher ground. Near the centre, though, there stood five enormous Vysotki wedding-cake skyscrapers, their massive triangular frames dwarfing both the town and the peaks around it to the extent that it was hard to say exactly how tall they really were. A few windows were lit in two of them; the others were visible only as hulking silhouettes. Surrounding them, a dense tangle of broad empty boulevards, twelve-storey housing blocks, gutted warehouses, rust-stained smokestacks.
Finally the bus stopped in a small square with weeds breaking through the cracks in the paving stones. A few taxis were waiting nearby. David leant in to the window of one.
“Hotel Rimniksky?”
“Sure. Six million rouble. Two euro.”
David got in.
“You are English?” the driver said as he started the engine. “London?”
“I’m from Manchester.”
“Oh! Manchester United! Yes?”
David, nominally a City fan, nodded. “Yeah.”
“Glory, glory Man United, as the reds go marching on! I am Eduard. What is your name?”
“David.”
“David from Manchester. You must not go to the hotel. You are a guest in Suvorovigrad! You should stay at my home.”
“Oh, no, I-”
“You must. We will have kvinitsk and coffee. Do you know it? It is Transporenian brandy, very famous.”
“I’ve already paid, you see.”
Eduard sniffed. “OK. Hotel Rimniksky. We are almost here anyway.” As he turned a corner, one of the skyscrapers suddenly loomed up, all but filling the windscreen.
“That’s the hotel?”
“Yes. It is the tallest hotel in Europe, did you know this? All of Transporenia is very proud of this hotel.”
“How tall is it?”
“A quarter of one mile.” The car pulled around the tower and into the middle of a large square. With the hotel in the middle, the other skyscrapers were arranged in a semicircle around one side, staring down at the barren concrete. It was entirely empty. The clouds formed an empty ring above, as if it were in the eye of a hurricane. “Listen,” said Edouard. “Tomorrow night, me and my friend will drink in the bar of the hotel. You must join us, yes? We will show you how to drink like Transporenians.”
“Of course,” said David, handing over a five-euro note.
“This is good. Be careful of the wind when you leave.”
As soon as David stepped out of the car he was almost knocked down by an immense gust of wind blowing from across the square towards the towers. Its roar was drowned out by the shrill oscillating whistle of the air as it surged between the tall buildings and their crenellations. Flecks of paint ripped from their crumbling faces were dancing as thick as mites. Some of them stung David’s hand and ears, his coat billowed out in front of him, his hair whipped across his face. Crouching down slightly, suitcase in tow, he made his way towards the entrance of the hotel.

Shostakovich’s fifth symphony in D minor was playing tinnily on an invisible speaker system. The lobby of the hotel, vast and barren, echoed with it. Innumerable rows of square columns were reaching out from the lift-shaft on the far side, their grouting showing where the mosaic tiling had been stripped away. A few red and gold tiles lay broken here and there in the dust collecting at their bases. To one side of the entrance two men in string vests sat on two off-white plastic chairs, cigarettes drooping at identical angles from their lips, staring down the lines of pillars. One’s lips were moving silently; he seemed to be counting them. To the other side stood a small booth. A young woman frowned at him from behind wire mesh.
“How much for a night?” David asked.
“You want cold water, hot and cold water, brandy?”
“Brandy?”
“Twenty-three million, five hundred and eighty thousand rouble a night. You do not know how long you are staying.”
It wasn’t a question. “I suppose not.”
“Pay when you check out. Your passport, please.”
She exchanged it for a heavy iron key. “You are room eighteen, floor nine hundred and eighty-seven,” she said. Then, twisting her face into a vague approximation of a smile, “Thank you for choosing Hotel Rimniksky. Enjoy your stay.”
There was, in fact, a floor 987 on the antique console in the lift. David stared at it for a while. There were two buttons for the first floor, with one imprisoned behind a small wire cage. Then one for the second floor, the third, the fifth, the eighth, the thirteenth, the twenty-first, the thirty-fourth. The penthouse appeared to be on the 75025th storey. Were these the only floors accessible? The tower certainly had more than twenty-five storeys, but surely even a building a quarter of a mile high couldn’t contain tens of thousands. Suddenly aware that he was entrusting his safety to an architectural team of numerical illiterates, David pressed his button.

After the lift had been groaning and creaking its way upwards for ten minutes, he gave up and sat down on his suitcase to read his guidebook. The room, when he finally arrived, was sweeping and threadbare; pipes with flaking paint running along the edge of a domed roof, the faint remains of scrubbed-out frescoes just visible in patches towards one wall. There was a single bed, looking preposterously small in so much empty space, a kitchenette huddled in a corner, two chairs that smelled of mothballs, a row of windows looking out onto the blackness of the countryside. When he wandered into the en-suite bathroom he saw that it was hardly smaller than the room itself. Across a stretching plain of cracked white tiles, a portrait of Stalin hung above a squatting toilet. The sink had three taps with ornate brass fixtures: hot water, cold water, and, yes, brandy. David poured himself a glass of the latter and sat on the end of his bed. By his third brandy flashes of Alexandra started to project themselves unbidden into his mind. Alex’s occasional tenderly mischievous smile, Alex’s look of subdued entrancement as she examined some forgotten painting or medieval knick-knack, Alex in the cramped kitchen of their old flat, frying eggs in her underwear. They had been in love once; it was as if they’d willed themselves into indifference. It was his fault, he’d soured her, he’d always known it. And now he’d got what he wanted: he was away from her, away from Jean and her temptations, in a hotel room in Transporenia with no company except the phlegmy gurgle of the pipes and his own accusing thoughts. He’d made a terrible mistake.

Everything seemed somehow easier the next day. David Rosenthal endured the long elevator ride down to the lobby with a placid stoicism, he smiled and nodded at the girl behind the reception desk (it might have been the same one, he wasn’t sure), he knew instinctively to hug the wall of the hotel closely when he left to avoid the worst of the wind. He whiled away most of the day wandering around Suvorovigrad’s old town, a dense little maze of Habsburg buildings. Eventually he came to large square, dominated by the Supreme Soviet building. A portrait of – he assumed – President Bogarikov hung from the central balcony. Flanked with hammer-and-sickles, he was a fleshy, jowly, unsmiling man with suspicious little eyes. Even in the portrait, his suit had a Mafioso sheen to it. Bogarikov’s cross-eyed stare settled on the Memorial to the War of Transporenia, standing between the building and the obligatory statue of Lenin. David strolled up to it. A tall hollow concrete cylinder peppered with irregular holes of varying sizes, the whole thing seemed to be slowly and noiselessly rotating. But as he approached the thing, David realised that the concrete was entirely static; it was the holes themselves that were moving. The memorial was slightly warm to the touch; as he held a hand against it one hole the size of a two-pound coin passed underneath, its jagged rim rippling through the surface of the concrete like a wave, scratching at his palm.
But that was impossible, surely?

With little else to do, David found himself returning to that square by the evening. Across from the Supreme Soviet building was the only bar in Suvorovigrad aside from that in the hotel, a strip joint called, enticingly, Olga’s. Onstage, a woman naked but for two nipple tassels was performing a Cossack dance to a farting trumpet melody. It wasn’t so much erotic as queasily gynaecological, but the few punters were observing with an expression of studied contemplation, as if they were trying to enjoy an opera. David recognised one of the men without being able to say where from. Trying to ignore it, he had a brandy and looked glumly at the entry on Budapest in his guidebook.
Eventually, he noticed a woman with a short peroxide-blonde pixie cut and a faded Joy Division t-shirt sitting in a secluded corner, reading something with Latin lettering on the cover. He wandered over.
“Hi,” he said. “What’s the book?”
“Oh, it’s trash,” she said. “The Dark Wind trilogy.” She had a slight accent; German, perhaps, or Dutch. “I’m Hanna.”
“David.”
She nudged a chair out from the table with her foot. “You sound English. I’ve not seen you here before. How long have you been trying?”
David sat. “Trying?”
“You know, to stay. I’ve been here for over a year. Every three months I have to cross back over to Moldova and get another visa. It’s a bitch.” Hanna yawned. “But I’m close this time. I can feel it.”
“I’m just visiting,” said David.
She laughed. “Just visiting! Do you not know what this place is?”
“Uh, yeah,” said David. “Or I thought I did.”
“No you didn’t.” A suggestive little grin. “But let me guess. As soon as you knew that Transporenia existed, you suddenly realised that you had to come here. You didn’t know exactly why. But you had to come. Like the whole country was some one big magnet pulling you towards it.”
“I don’t-”
“Oh, you had reasons. The rouble is very weak, you could buy lots of cheap stuff. Or you wanted to see the tank graveyard. Shit, maybe you’re some kind of nostalgic commie. Whatever. That came afterwards. But first, you knew you had to come. You weren’t satisfied with your life at home, and you knew you had to come. It was like an itch. Am I right?”
“Yeah. How can you know that?”
“Goddamn it. You’re going to stay here. You’ll never leave this country.” She poured him a glass of brandy. “Congratulations, man.”
Hanna’s confidence worried David a little. It was true; he couldn’t explain exactly why he had come. But Transporenia was strange and threatening; he certainly had no intention of setting up his home there. He didn’t say that, though. They clinked glasses. “Nazdrav,” said David. Hanna eyed him suspiciously.
“How long have you been in Transporenia?” she said.
“Since last night.”
“Nazdrav is what the Transporenians say when they drink. You’ll stay for sure. You’re learning the verdomd language already.”
“I doubt it. I have a job to get to back home, you know.”
“And what job is that?” She twirled the straw of her drink round a finger.
“Why don’t you tell me? You seem to know everything about me already.”
“I don’t know a thing about you. I just know about people who come to Transporenia. But let me see… you’re an actuary. No. A funeral director. Something very, very dull and very, very serious.”
David laughed. “Not quite.”
“Give me a day. I’ll work it out.”
“And what about you?”
“I’m trying to stay in Transporenia. Believe me, it’s a full-time job.” Onstage, the dancer lay on her back and performed the splits. Hanna stood up “This part of Transporenia, though, I do not like. I think I will go to bed. I’ll see you, I’m sure.” As she turned to leave she paused. “I don’t suppose you want to fuck.”
It was a statement, not a question. “Sorry,” said David. With her pointedly elfine little face and her air of wry knowing Hanna was far from unattractive, but she was right; he didn’t.
“Oh, not at all. You’re in chrysalisation. See you around, grazadya.”
David knew that grazadya meant citizen; he must have picked it up by osmosis. He finished his drink and left not long after. As he walked past the stage he realised where he recognised the silent watching customer from: it was President Bogarikov.

David ran into Hanna again the next morning buying coffee at a bakery in the old town. She refused to expand on any of her gnomic comments from the previous night, but did say a little about why she was trying so hard to stay in Transporenia, matter-of-factly, without any apparent shame.
Hanna van der Kolk had never really enjoyed her life all that much. The girls at school hadn’t been very kind to her; she’d worn her hair short even then, she listened to death metal and didn’t have any boyfriends. They’d called her a dyke. Her mother kept on telling Hanna to just grow her hair out; she couldn’t understand that her daughter didn’t want to be happy. Hanna had gone to the University of Antwerp and it’d been slightly better; there were people a little like herself, people who wore a lot of black and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of made-up worlds, but she was still acutely aware that, in some ineffable way, she wasn’t like them at all. She’d had flings but there were still no boyfriends; she was fond of some of the men in her circle but their advances repulsed her, they were always bungling or lecherous, their foreheads clammy with desperation. Hanna tried it with girls a few times and almost managed to convince herself that she liked it, but she could never climax – every time she came close the whispered taunt of lesbisch and all the shame and fury that went with it would sound in her ear. One bright cold morning, she climbed up to the top of the main building in the Middelheim campus and stood there for an hour, contemplating the spindly tree-trunks and the grass coruscating with frost below, thinking about jumping. She hadn’t actually wanted to, she explained, but she’d wanted to want to. Not long afterwards, Hanna read something about Transporenia on the Internet. Within a week she’d abandoned her studies and was en route to Moldova, because she knew, instinctively, that Transporenia would be better.
“And is it?” said David. “Better, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” said Hanna. “I’m not here yet.”

When he was 17, David Rosenthal had written an essay on the Freudian death-drive for school.
Freud’s late concept of Thanatos, he wrote, has been subject to extensive criticism. Many in the analytic community found it untenable that human beings nurse a secret desire for self-extinction. In fact, with Thanatos, Freud offers humanity its salvation. Without it, we are slaves to our id and the repressive mechanisms that seek to rein it in, reducible to our sexuality. The will to death liberates us. In our own deaths we find a higher purpose above our animal pleasures.
He was, of course, still a virgin at the time. Needless to say, the school counsellor was highly concerned.

Hanna insisted on showing David some of the local attractions. They walked to the home of Ivan, a Transporenian friend of hers who she said would drive them to the Greek ruins outside the city. Ivan was a slight man with pince-nez and a tweed jacket slightly too big for him; he greeted Hanna with a slightly bashful kiss on the lips. His tiny apartment was full of chintzy ornaments; a fat white cat wallowed on one table, lazily flicking its tail at the Lilliputian porcelain figurines that surrounded it. After the obligatory coffee, served in thin glasses with artificial sweetener and strained conversation, they set off.
The ancient Greek archaeological site lay a couple of miles down the valley from Suvorovigrad. As he drove his battered Trabant 601 through the hills, Ivan talked in fractured English about his studies at the Suvorovigrad Technical Institute, until at one unremarkable point he pulled over suddenly by the side of the road.
“Over this hill,” he said, opening the door. “Come.”
As he crested the hill, David saw why. Below them, a small valley was filled with tanks piled up on top of each other in a monstrous heap almost as tall as the hills themselves, some torn into molten fragments, some rusting into each other, their hulls scarred and warped, mottled with the gently decaying shades of a forest floor in autumn. Here and there were white flashes of sun-bleached bones, tarnished shell casings, and what looked like spear heads. The crickets sang a monotone threnody.
“Jesus,” said David.
Hanna nodded.
“But –I thought we were going to the archaeological site.”
“This is it,” said Hanna.
Ivan went to stand against one of the bombed-out tanks. “The ancient Greeks come here in the sixth century before Christ,” he said. “The city they build here is a colony of Miletus. They call the city Hephaestopolis. In the War of Transporenia the Greeks fight on the side of Moldova. From here in Hephaestopolis the Greek tanks, the Anaximenes division, they fire at Suvorovigrad. Very bad. I am only a child when they do the bombing, but I remember. Every day, you hear them… boom! Boom! The next shell, it can kill your friend, your family, it could go into your home. No shops are open, everyone is scared, everyone stays inside, we are very hungry. Many hundreds are dead. Then the Russian MiG fighters come, and fwoosh! They blow up all the Miletus soldiers. Suvorovigrad is saved.”
David walked up to the closest tank. Fading into the rust, the letters ΜΊΛΗΤΟΣ were just visible in bubbling white paint. A Corinthian helmet was half-crushed under its treads. He knew that something about the archaeological site didn’t make sense, but he couldn’t work out what; it frustrated him, like a word on the tip of his tongue.

When he arrived at the hotel bar that night Eduard and his friend were already there. They were drinking vodka and eating some kind of shellfish David didn’t recognise: as he walked in Eduard’s friend was prising open a dark purple shell with a steak knife and dousing the thing inside with salt.
“David from Manchester United!” said Eduard. “Join us, my friend.”
His friend shook the shellfish into his glass. It frothed and flailed a little, then went limp. He drank it down. He was a tall, sheer man, all points: pointed cheekbones, pointed elbows, a pointed stare; an absurd stick insect of a man next to Edouard’s tumescent caterpillar.
Eduard poured David a shot. “Nazdrav!” he said. “David, this is Konstantin. He is a very good friend of mine.” Eduard’s bloated nose was red; his eyes were threaded with fine veins. His voice was already slurred.
“David,” said David, shaking his hand. Konstantin looked into his eyes with the clear watchfulness of a predator lying in wait. David drank. “Cheers.”
“You are drinking wrong,” said Eduard. “This is Ukrainian pertsivka; it is not your Smirnoff. You do not throw it down your neck. You drink like this, slowly. Look.” He poured himself a glass. “Nazdrav!”
Konstantin took up the steak knife. Instead of cracking open another shellfish, he twirled it on his fingertip. “Ya chotz vas glaznotzha ablukh,” he said, slowly, drawling over every syllable.
Eduard giggled. “My friend is saying: I will cut out your eyeball.”
“Vas glaznotzha,” said Konstantin again. He didn’t smile. Eduard collapsed into a laughing fit. Konstantin took a small dark marble out from the pocket of his threadbare coat. “Vas glaznotzha.”
“I think I should go,” said David.
“No, no, you must stay. You are a guest here. It is just Konstantin’s joke. Shutka, da, Konstantin?”
“Da,” said Konstantin. His gaze hadn’t moved from David. “Prosto shutka.”
Eduard poured out three drinks. “Good, good. We are all friends, yes?”
Konstantin was still staring at David. He didn’t seem to blink. Without looking, he opened another shellfish, salted it, and slid into his drink. He didn’t put the knife down. “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” he said eventually.
“Eine kleine,” lied David. “Français?”
“Nyet, nyet.” He jabbed a bony finger at David. “You… you are very ugly.”
“Thanks,” said David, with a hemiplegiac smile.
“Eduard, he very ugly also. He is old man. But you are very ugly. You are very ugly young man.” He drank, as if to underline the point. “Is this why you come to Transporenia? Because you are very ugly man?”
“He has come to Transporenia for the women,” chortled Eduard. “Haven’t you? The most beautiful women on Earth.”
“What do you know of Transporenia?” said Konstantin. “Nothing. You… you do not know Transporenia. You come here. But you do not know it, this country.”
“That’s why I came,” said David. “I wanted to find out. I’m interested.”
“To find out! You sit in your house, your big house, and you say: I will find out Transporenia! Very easy for you, yes? A good… a good… optusk?”
“Vacation,” said Eduard.
“A good vacation. Da. You do not know Transporenia. Let me tell you story. I fight War of Transporenia in year 1992. We are at Battle Priadzhat. We are in town Priadzhat. The Moldovan men, they are around us on all sides. All the men, the women in town Priadzhat, the Moldovans kill them all. When we come there, they have bodies on the street. We are in trenches. My friend next to me, he stand up, a sniper bullet take him,” – he placed his finger on David’s cheek, just below his left eye – “it take him right here. I see this, I see his skin tear off, I see his bone break, I see his glaznotzha – his eyeball – I see it fall in the mud. He is dead. Very good friend. This is why I say to you: I will take it out your eyeball.”
Eduard tried to suppress a giggle.
“Then his mother, my friend, for days she cry. She does not eat. She has no husband. No son. She die as well. From sadness. He was a real man. She was a real woman. A human, understand? And they die. For this!” He looked around at the half-empty bar. “For Transporenia. For independence. For you to sit and say: I want know Transporenia. I want find out. I’m interested.” Konstantin poured himself another glass of vodka and looked at it gloomily. “You should not have come to Transporenia,” he said. “You are young man. Even though you very ugly. Transporenia is not for young men. When you old, and you tired, and you no longer love your life, then you come to Transporenia when it calls. Not now.”
“How do you know I’m not tired already?” said David.
“Maybe you are. But you are young man. It can get better.” Konstantin looked up at David again, but there was no menace in his predator-stare now. “You should go back to your mother. Go back to your girlfriend. Say to her: I am sorry. I was wrong. I love you. I should not have come to Transporenia.” He raised his glass. “Nazdrav,” he mumbled.
Eduard clapped his hands. “We must play cards!” he said.

David didn’t see Eduard and Konstantin for the next couple of days; he didn’t see Hanna or Ivan either. She was right: the Transporenian language was remarkably easy to pick up. The odd word would rise out of the hubbub of conversation surrounding him in canteens and parks and make itself known. Transporenians complained about the price of bread, they talked about their hopes for their children, they gossiped about the indiscretions of their friends. But some of their conversation was plain bizarre. David heard two cackling toothless old women in peasant shawls telling each other fast-paced jokes; from what he could make out of them, they were all about the penises of nineteenth-century philosophers.
“Schopenhauer,” one said. “Korotik, no ochen tolsty.”
“Nietzsche,” said the other. “Ona dolyazha ibyet kroshenka!” She held up her thumb and forefinger to demonstrate.
“Kierkegaardat ochen, ochen stronay.”
Other stuff filtered in as well. He woke up one morning suddenly knowing what the other towers that surrounded the Hotel Rimniksky contained: the other operational building housed the Ministry of Ephemera, the three empty husks had been shelled in the War of Transporenia; before that they had been the Palace of Arts and Meteorologies, the headquarters of the Transporenian Union for Socialist Journalism, and the All-Soviet Institute for Experimental Research in the Science of Marxism-Leninism. That same day he noticed the secret police agent who had been silently trailing him since he’d arrived in the country. After that, whenever they saw each other they’d share a nod of mutual recognition.

Not long after, David went out in the morning to find a strange silence had enveloped the streets of Suvorovigrad. Even his secret policeman seemed to have other business. As he meandered in the direction of the old town a taxi pulled up suddenly next to him.
“My friend, you must come!” said Eduard, leaning out the window. “The big parade is today!”
The boulevard running to the Supreme Soviet was packed with people grinning and waving flags. On the street, a detachment of Transporenian soldiers in olive-green uniforms with peaked caps and ceremonial scimitars goose-stepped past. They were followed by workers in boiler suits holding up hammer-and-sickle flags and portraits of Stalin and Bogarikov. The biggest cheer went to the Russians, who were parading in their black uniforms with a hefty assortment of tanks, artillery pieces, and flatbed missile launchers. They were all still wearing their gas masks.
“Why are they wearing masks?” said David.
Eduard waved a hand. “It is nonsense. The Kremlin is worried. They don’t want them to breathe the air in Transporenia.”
“It’s not safe?”
“Ha! I have been breathing the air of Transporenia all my life. Do I not look healthy to you?” David didn’t say anything. Eduard let off a stinking laugh. “OK, OK. But that is because I drink too much kvinitsk. You are a sensible young man, no?”
After the last rocket launcher crawled past there followed a group of old men in grey suits waving at the crowd.
“These men, they are the Party officials,” said Eduard.
“Communist Party, right?”
“Kommunistichesk? No, no. The Communists are banned. They would be arrested. Everyone in Transporenia must be a member of Partiya Yedintsev. It is the only party.”
“But the hammers and sickles?”
“Yes. That is a kind of a joke. All Transporenians are Slavic, yes? Like in Russia. And the Moldovans speak Romanian. So we are saying to Moldova: you might be the big country now, but remember, we used to rule you!” He laughed. “It is a very funny joke.”
“And the Partiya Yed…”
“Partiya Yedintsev. It is the only party.”
“What’s it mean?”
“The Only Party. Because it is the only party allowed.”
“So if everyone’s a member of the Only Party, who’s in the Communist Party?”
Eduard gaped at him as if he were simple. “Who would be in the Communist party? Nobody is in the Communist Party. It is banned.”

The parade had been in commemoration of the opening of Suvorovigrad’s first Internet café. David had almost forgotten about the Internet; he hadn’t even read a newspaper in weeks. When he went the next day the place was all but deserted: Transporenians might like a good parade but they didn’t seem to particularly care about any new technology that couldn’t be used to vaporise Moldovan soldiers. When he checked the news online everything was pretty much the same. Wars were going badly; governments were double-dipping into various financial abysses; celebrities were racists, rapists, or otherwise thoroughly unpleasant people; the whole pointless business of the world had been continuing its diurnal cycle of disintegration quite happily without his knowledge. People didn’t read the newspaper in Transporenia, he realised. Transporenia always stayed the same: there was Bogarikov, and an independence that would never be recognised by the rest of the world, and that was that.
There was slightly more going on when he checked his email inbox. It was stuffed with messages, all of them from Jean Parson:

where are u? jean x

Seriously, David, where are you? None of us can contact you, all Alex is saying is that you’ve ‘gone’, she’s really upset. You haven’t gone off to Moldova have you? Please reply as soon as you get this!!! Jean

ok david this isn’t funny, please at least let us know you’re alright. jean

david this isnt a fucking joke. alex had to go back to manchester, she’s in a really bad state, you’ve seriously hurt her, she thinks its her fault. i cant believe youd just desert her like this, it’s incredibly selfish and frankly revolting. i don’t know what you think youre doing but you’ve completely wrecked our holiday & broken the heart of a good person who really cared about you. the very least you could do is try to explain yourself, this silence is infantile & pathetic!! grow some fucking balls at least. jean

hey david. fuck you, you piece of SHIT

Another world. An impossibly distant world, one David Rosenthal didn’t live in any more.

That night in his big empty room in the Hotel Rimniksky, David dreamed he was having sex with Jean Parson. They were twisted together on the sofa in Ivan’s apartment in Suvorovigrad; the ornaments covering every flat surface tinkled with every movement, Jean was making all the right noises, her body writhing deliciously, and David was utterly bored by the whole ordeal. Eventually, overcome by desperation, he made one long thrust and let out a low groan. Jean feigned satisfaction, but he’d clearly overdone it. She knew he was faking.

In the morning, he found Hanna waiting for him in the hotel lobby. One of Ivan’s lecturers at the Technical Institute was hosting a small dinner party that evening; as a foreign guest his presence would be very welcome.
David wore a nice striped shirt Alexandra had picked out for him once and a pair of Oxfords he hadn’t worn since the restaurant in Budapest. He found his way to the apartment, which was on the other side of the city, almost instinctually. From the address Hanna had given him he knew to take the number 3 tram from Pritneskya Street; he even knew that the apartment would be in the tower block with the stained white tiling covering its West face. It was as if he’d lived in Suvorovigrad his entire life.
There were only six people at the party. The two other students were a little like Ivan: gangly, with big eyes and archaic clothing. They were very interested in David; they wanted to know everything about England.
“Is it true,” one asked over drinks, “that in England to see a woman’s ankle is offensive?”
“Is it true that in England it is only allowed to hunt for foxes?”
“Is it true that in England they have statues of the Queen in churches instead of the Virgin Mary?”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” said David. “I’m Jewish.”
They didn’t really get the joke, but it set them off with increased vigour. They wanted to know if the Zionists really controlled the British parliament, if the Jews really spat on crucifixes in synagogue services, if David really owned an entire bank. Their antisemitism was naïve and without much malice; they weren’t accusing him of anything, they were genuinely curious. Throughout all this the lecturer stayed silent. A knowing grin was buried somewhere under his bushy auburn beard.
After a dinner of veal stew the lecturer served coffee, and Ivan and Hanna fucked on a table. As they watched Ivan’s lecturer would occasionally raise a finger and nod, as if to commend the student on his technique. There was a light smattering of nervous applause when she came. David felt claustrophobic; his collar stuck sweatily to his neck, he thirsted for cold air and solitude. For the first time in years he really needed a cigarette. Having wordlessly borrowed one from one of the students he went out to the balcony to smoke it.
Across the glittering plain of Suvorovigrad, the Hotel Rimniksky reared up like a Japanese B-movie monster. David felt a sudden need to be back there, in his room with its vast empty spaces and brandy on tap. But it would be rude to excuse himself from the party before Ivan had finished, and in any case he had no real desire to go back into that room. Of course, he realised: he could fly. So he stubbed out his cigarette, and leapt from the balcony.

David hovered in the air for a while just outside the window. None of the people inside seemed to have noticed him; they were still busy watching Ivan and Hanna. He set off. At first he flew straight for the hotel, but after a minute or so he decided that he may as well have some fun: he adopted a Superman pose and roared into the night, he described a series of increasingly vertiginous loops, he flew straight up to see the whole of Suvorovigrad spread out below him. Eventually, coasting lazily on his stomach high above the streets, he came to the hotel. Just as he was about to alight on the roof, the wind blowing up one face of the tower hit him and he was suddenly caught, tumbling upwards in a flailing panic, faster and faster, corkscrewing into the upper atmosphere. David’s breath came in jagged gasps. His heart tapped a frenzied drumroll. The air was freezing; it was taking on the chilling touch of the void. For a moment David saw the whole region arcing in front of him: Suvorovigrad was a tiny splodge of light; Chişinău a messy blot, Bucharest a shining sprawl in the distance. The golden fringe of dusk hung perilously on the edge of the Earth’s curvature. It was beautiful. David knew he was going to die.
Somehow he managed to stabilise himself and fly out of the ferocious column of air. David half-fell, half-flew back to the ground. Exhausted, he dragged himself through the hotel lobby and collapsed into bed.

The next day, just before dawn, he was arrested.

First came the loud knock on the door. Then the voice.
“David Rosenthal,” it barked. “You are under arrest. Please pack your possessions.”
It was David’s secret policeman; he was surrounded by Russian soldiers in heavy black armour clutching Kalashnikovs, the goggles of their gas masks gazing unfeelingly into the middle distance.
David was cuffed and blindfolded. In the lift he heard the gentle click of a key: his secret policeman was unlocking the cage to the other, forbidden ground floor. The soldiers marched him out the hotel and into a waiting vehicle; he didn’t struggle; knowing, somehow, through his fear, that he was guilty, that he deserved it all. As the car bumped through pothole-riddled boulevards, rattling along until his terror faded into boredom, he didn’t speak. Eventually he was dragged out and taken into another building; when his blindfold was removed he was sitting in a large well-furnished office before a broad mahogany desk. A man sat across from him under a portrait of President Bogarikov. At first David couldn’t make him out in the sudden brightness, but as his eyes cooled the stick-thin man in front of him was unmistakeable. It was Konstantin.
“Konstantin?” said David. “I confess. I-”
“Look again,” said Konstantin.
Bogarikov looked at him from the portrait. Bogarikov looked at him from across the desk. His face and Konstantin’s were overlaid on top of each other, occupying the same space, shifting into each other like colours in an oil spill.
“You’re Bogarikov?”
“Sometimes. I’m surprised you didn’t recognise me after you saw me at Olga’s. That you didn’t realise that Eduard was also your secret police agent. Or that your friend Ivan was also the border guard you met when you arrived here. I’m disappointed. Well. No matter now.” He shuffled a stack of papers on his desk. “You are under arrest because you have violated the terms of your tourist visa. You acquired Transporenian ontology. You flew.”
“How did you know?”
“How could we not know? You’re no great aeronaut. Now. You have a choice. We can deport you. We can put you in a car under armed guard and send you back across the border to Moldova. You can go back to your flat. You can go back to Alexandra. She’ll be angry, I’m sure. But she’ll take you back. She loves you, you know, even if she doesn’t always know how to show it. That is your first choice. As I told you before, you’re a young man, David. You might feel like you are not at home in the world. But it can get better.”
“And the other choice?”
“You can stay. Here. In Transporenia.”
“I want to stay. There’s nothing for me back there.”
“You know what this place is, I take it?”
“I think so.”
Konstantin arched his fingertips on the desk. “Tell me.”
“It’s a country that doesn’t exist. It’s not real. When you fought that war, you weren’t just fighting for independence from Moldova. You gained your independence from the whole of reality.”
“It might not be better, you know. Just because this place isn’t real doesn’t mean you’ll be happy here.”
“I know. I want to stay.”
Konstantin sighed. “I can’t stop you.”
“What about Hanna?”
“Hanna van der Kolk? She will never stay here. She wants it. She wills herself to be unhappy. Not like you. She is not of the symparanekromenoi. She will keep on trying. Maybe for the rest of her life.” Konstantin drew out a single sheet from the stack of papers. “This is your naturalisation form. Before I sign it: are you sure you want this?”
“I’m sure,” said David. “I’m sure.” He frowned at Konstantin. “Where are you from?”
“I am from Transporenia, of course. Maybe before that I was from somewhere else. It’s hard to say.” He took a quill pen and signed the document. “Congratulations, grazadya.”

Afterwards, David went outside, and saw Transporenia as it really was.

The conspiracy theory of Disneyland

The monotheistic desert is a passageway through which the Earth’s ultimate blasphemy with the Outside smuggles itself in and begins to unfold. The apocalyptic desert is a field through which the Tellurian dynamics of the Earth can be ingrained within anthropomorphic belief systems. In which case, there is no worse blasphemy than ‘Thy Kingdom come.’
Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia

A while ago, I wrote that I was beginning to have doubts about the theory of simulacrum. In my last days in California, I put my scepticism to the test: I went to Disneyland. What I found there troubled and fascinated me. After my return the same images kept on flashing through my mind: the running children, the laughing children, the children bellowing in fury as their parents dragged them through the exit, the omnipresent insistence on happiness, the cold blank faces of the animatronic puppets, the bloodshot eyes of the actresses playing the various princesses. A lot of it had been unproblematic fun: the rollercoasters, the shooting ranges, the meticulous detailing – but there was something pervasively sinister about the park. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride ended implausibly with a descent into Hell, where he presumably now suffers for eternity. The robotic vultures in Splash Mountain cackled over my impending death. The ‘happiest cruise that ever sailed’ seemed intent on slowly driving me insane with each repetition of its shrieking refrain. I had to find an explanation for what I had seen. I started to read up on the place.

There was plenty to read: so much has been said about Disneyland. The lingering racism of Adventureland has been thoroughly picked apart, the progression of Tomorrowland from naive liberal utopianism to ironic steampunk to brushed-aluminium iFuturism has been exhaustively documented, the strangely totalitarian way in which the Haunted Mansion’s automated cars ensure a uniformity of experience for all visitors has been subject to an excess of theorisation. Everyone already knows that if you stand to one side of the statue of Walt and Mickey on Main Street USA, Mickey’s snout looks like Walt’s erect penis. Baudrillard was fascinated by the place, devoting much of America to a meditation on it. Eco famously compared a cruise down the Mississippi unfavourably to its imitation in Frontierland. But in my research, I found myself heading down entirely unexpected routes.

The theorists of Disneyland all make the same category error: they all approach Disneyland and its projected reality as an intrinsically modern – or indeed postmodern – phenomenon. They’re wrong. Walking into the park, a sign informs you that ‘here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.’ The sign is more accurate than most visitors realise. When you go through the gates of Disneyland you enter the bowels of something sublimely ancient, something whose avaricious fantasies have shaped the nature of our world for centuries, something grasping to claim our future.

The notes that follow are the result of weeks of frenzied research. The employees at the British Library know me well by now: I’m always already there when they open in the morning, pacing up and down in front of the building in the chilly dawn light, taking quick nervous drags from a cigarette. I’ve been growing steadily more neurotic. The sound of helicopters has me slamming down windows and pulling curtains. My hands shake uncontrollably, even as I type. Still, I feel I have to share what I have learned. I’ve tried to present my findings as objectively and as comprehensively as possible, but it’s not always easy to maintain an academic tone when under such stress. This is the true story of Disneyland.

The Cult of Penew-Nekhet: an overview

The story of Disneyland begins in ancient Egypt, with the Cult of Penew-Nekhet, or the All-conquering Mouse. While animal cults such as that of Apis the bull at Heliopolis date back six thousand years to the predynastic period, that of Penew-Nekhet appears to be comparatively recent. While it may have been operating clandestinely for some time beforehand, its existence is first documented during the reign of Amenemhat II around 1923 BCE. In contrast to other Egyptian animal religions, the Cult was not demotic in character: public ceremonies were rare, with carvings attesting to only one: a monument to Sobekneferu at Gezer records among her few achievements during her three-year reign the ‘inauguration of the games of the Mouse.’ Instead its practitioners were drawn almost entirely from the aristocratic nomarch-class, with rites performed in secret in their provincial estates. The Cult was also unique in that the archaeological record gives no indication that ritual burials and mummification of mice ever took place: rather, Cultists would adorn the inside of their houses with imagery of mice shown enjoying positions of luxury, often being waited on by cats, as in the ostrakon above. That no mouse-related imagery has been found on the outside of palaces or funerary complexes attests to the shifting nature of the relationship between the nomes and Pharaonic power during the Middle Kingdom: at times the Cult was tolerated or endorsed, as was the case under Sobekneferu; at times it was suppressed – whatever the political situation, its practitioners did their utmost to conceal their secret religion.

The unique character of the mouse-cult can to some extent be explained by the unique character of the mouse in Egyptian thought of the time. In the ancient Egyptian language, the word penew was always singular. Records do not describe an arov penewt, or plague of mice, but always an arov penew, a plague of mouse. Mice were conceived of as a single substance; like flies or worms, they were presumed to emerge from spontaneous generation, with the murine principle of Penew-Nekhet directing their abiogenesis. This is why members of the Cult continued to keep cats and lay traps for mice, while in other cults the killing of the sacred animal was taboo: the object of their worship was not the individual mouse but mouse in the abstract. Mice, which caused famine by eating grain in warehouses, were commonly recognised as a symbol of death, while with their subterranean burrows they were thought to have a privileged connection with the Underworld. The Cult of Penew-Nekhet could therefore be considered as an incipient Satanism in an era preceding such Manichaean moral divisions: the image of the cat waiting on the mouse indicates a total reversal of the accepted moral order. The focus on imagery and representation over the Real is also significant: in such images the seed of Disneyland’s spectacle can be seen.

It is not known exactly when the Cult of Penew-Nekhet spread to Greece, but it was well known by Homer’s time. In the Iliad he describes Chryses as being among its numbers:

Now Chryses had come to the ships of the Achaeans to free his daughter, and had brought with him a great ransom: moreover he bore in his hand a sceptre crowned with the symbol of the mouse and he besought the Achaeans, but most of all the two sons of Atreus, who were their chiefs, and who too were worshippers of his cult. “Sons of Atreus,” he cried, “may the gods who dwell in Olympus grant you to sack the city of Priam, and to reach your homes in safety; but free my daughter, and accept a ransom for her, in reverence to Apollo, son of Zeus, and to the image of the Mouse, before which we prostrate ourselves as one.”

While the secrecy of the Egyptian cult and the lack of any records concerning its rituals make it hard to ascertain to what extent the Greek manifestation was continuous with it, the same themes (inversion of morality, adoration of images and representations, the chthonic) are present in accounts of Penew-Nekhet rites. As in Egypt, worshippers of the Cult were drawn from the aristocracy, and it intermittently stood as a vehicle of aristocratic class solidarity against monarchical power. Unlike the contemporaneous Bacchanalian mysteries, practitioners were uniformly male, and there was no element of eroticism. In one fragment from Herodotus, a ritual in Epheseus is described:

The supplicants, wearing the crowns and masks of a king, then threw themselves to the ground before the statue of the mouse, and wailed, “O destroyer, O bringer of famine, may your desolation stretch across the world!” As their wailing grew louder it was joined by the beat of a drum and the sounding of a salpinx [trumpet]. At this point two slaves put the torch to the pyramid of grain that had been built on a stone altar in the centre of the circle and it leaped instantly into flame. The initiates then gathered around the fire, but did not dance to the drum. Instead they cried bitterly, pulling at their hair and clothes, and lamenting the loss of their grain. When I asked why, I was told, “We are rich men, and we have no lack of grain; but during the rite it is as if we are peasants, and our sorrow is real. This sorrow is felt by Nikheis Pondiki [Penew-Nekhet] and by the Earth, and we gain many great powers.”

References to the Cult during later antiquity are patchy. The early Christians were aware of it: the apocryphal Gospel of Munimius cautions ‘Therefore be not as the hypocrites, who make sacrifices for the eyes of the crowd, nor as the rich men, who in their mansions bow in unison before the Mouse, but worship alone according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not the flesh.‘ It is known that the emperor Elegabalus had the town of Croceae razed to the ground and its inhabitants slaughtered in 218 CE after he applied to join the Cult there and was rejected.

This antipathy between the Cult and Christianity, and the far more established enmity between the aristocratic Cultists and Pharaonic and royal power, melted away with the Donation of Constantine. The first Christian Emperor was drawn from a respectable lineage of Cultists – his grandfather Eutropius was an Illyrian nobleman who, as the Historia Augusta describes, ‘Held in his villa secret gatherings of the gentry, for which the city of Sminthium [city of the mouse] in Moesia Superior, which he founded, was named.‘ Indeed, in some depictions of the conversion of Constantine to Christianity before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, such as the one shown above (which is now housed in the Vatican’s private collections), the sign appearing in the sky is not that of the cross, but the trinod, or thrice-weaved circle, of the Cult of Nikheis Pondiki/Penew-Nekhet. As many modern historians have concluded, Constantine was in all likelihood not a genuine adherent to Christianity, but one who saw in this supposedly subversive new faith the potential to build a more unified empire. However, doing so would require the neutralisation of much of extant Christianity. Following from his incorporation of the Christian faith and Imperial power with the Council of Nicaea, Constantine instigated the removal of Arians and other Eastern heretics from the Church hierarchy, replacing them with trusted members of the Cult. Christianity proved a far more amenable vessel than chaotic paganism for the furthering of the Cult’s secret plans: institutional Christianity quickly set about suppressing the unbridled, sexualised Dionysian cults, declaring them as Satanic; meanwhile the properly Diabolic mouse-cult was embraced as a means of control.

The period from 325 CE coincides with a spate of church-building across the Roman Empire. New churches appeared in every major city, often built using Imperial funds and government-approved architects. Their design differs markedly from that of previous churches. During the period in which Christianity was persecuted, churches were informal, with prayer being carried out in private homes marked with the symbol of the fish or the Chi Rho. Services were held in the colonnaded atrium, and prayer rites were conducted without a cantor or leader; much of the prayer was silent. While the new, public basilicae featured a nod to earlier forms in the cloister, a walled garden at one end of the building reserved for use by the clergy, the church itself was dominated by the bema, a raised platform in the centre of the transept from which priests could direct their congregation. Liturgy became highly contrived, with themes of sin, worthlessness and abjection predominating. The burning of grain was replaced by a similar ritual, in which a wafer is consumed by congregants; as in the rite described by Herodotus, food is imparted with symbolic-representative value before being destroyed. This revolution in church architecture signals the first major shift in the development of Disneyland since ancient Egypt: the ceremonies of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet were no longer private, voluntary rites conducted by the elite. Instead, they took on elaborate disguises; large populations were made to participate in them without their knowledge.

The power of the Cult-Church complex was struck a harsh blow by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The Arian heresy, banished from the Empire in 325, was upheld by the barbarian rulers that had come to dominate Europe. Under Ostrogoth rule the Papacy continued to function, but without its large network of churches the potency of its rites appears to have waned. Scattered, terrified, and wretched, the Cultists fell back on earlier practices: in the 5th Century, for the first time since the reign of Constantine, private Penew-Nekhet ceremonies reappeared in the homes of the Senatorial class. With the conversion of the Franks to Catholicism the Cult finally began the drive to reclaim its former monarchial power; however this would not reach its goal for several centuries, with the surprise coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 CE.  Once again, royal and ecclesiastical authority were unified through the matrix of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet. A suppressed variant of Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni, unearthed by a Franco-American archaeological team at the Palace of Aachen in 1998, records Charlemagne’s induction into the Cult:

On the most holy day of the birth of our Lord, the king went to mass at St. Peter’s, and as he knelt in prayer before the altar Pope Leo set without warning a crown upon his head, while all the Roman populace cried aloud, ” Long life and victory to the mighty Charles, the great and pacific Emperor of the Romans, crowned of God! ” After he had been thus acclaimed, the pope did homage to him, as had been the custom with the early rulers. At first the king was displeased that Pope Leo should give to himself a power over that of the Augustus, and swore his regret that he had come to his [the Pope’s] aid. However, the next day, the king was called to a second ceremony in the crypts of Rome, whereafter he emerged in a good temper. On his return to Aachen the king then instructed his jewellers that the ears of the Mouse, woven from gold and studded with emeralds, be fixed to his Imperial crown, and sent out inspectors to the churches of his realm to ensure that prayers were conducted in the proper manner as ordained by almighty God.

The history of the Cult through the later Middle Ages is one of degeneration. With the increasing wealth of the Church and European monarchies, the rites of Penew-Nekhet dissolved into empty ritual and spectacle, often focused around orgies and spectacular consumption or destruction of expensive food, lacking the crucial aspects that gave power to the Egyptian and Greek Cultists. Church services based on the old secret grain-burning rites still took place but without a high level of orchestration they lost their value; meanwhile in their private lives the wealthy Cultists tended towards debauched Dionysianism rather than the contrived hyperreality of the early rituals. There were several movements by diehard Cultists to resurrect the true Cult: during the Avignon antipapacy there was a sudden explosion in the use of mice as architectural motifs, such as in the relief on the Palais des Papes shown above. However, the Cult was not fully restored until the 16th Century, with the intervention of Martin Luther.

That Luther was a member of the mouse-cult is incontrovertible. Born into a bourgeois family in 1483, Luther was pressed from an early age into a career in law, one which he found spiritually stifling. In desperate search of the certainty of faith, in 1505 he abandoned his studies and joined the Augustinian friary in Erfurt, under the tutelage of theologian and Cultist Johann von Staupitz.

Seeing the young man’s fierce intelligence, devotion to the Church and hunger for truth, von Staupitz inducted Luther into the Cult of Penew-Nekhet, most probably around 1506. It was in that year, according to Luther’s brother in the Augustinian friary Josef Endelstinus, that the young man began ‘making unexplained absences in the night, wherein he would leave his cell and thunder absent subtlety to the catacombs. There, strange drums could be heard, and among some brothers it was said that they could hear the voices of women, and a chanted prayer unlike any in the liturgy-book.‘ However, what Martin Luther did next was unexpected: rather than being seduced by the earthly pleasures afforded to him by his membership in the Cult, he became fascinated by its long history and the occult powers believed to be bestowed upon its adherents. Endelstinus later wrote that Luther convinced the friar to arrange for a manuscript of Manetho’s Aegyptiaca to be purchased at great expense by the monastery, a copy which he guarded jealously. Eventually, Luther came to the conclusion that the Cult’s degeneration was unacceptable. Rather than reforming it from the inside, he hatched a plan to overthrow it and start again, one that eventually manifested itself as the Protestant Reformation.

While Luther’s early opposition to the selling of indulgences to finance church construction at first appears to undermine the Cult’s programme of church-building, it must be remembered that the churches were by his time entirely non-functional as ritual spaces. The same goes for his frequent assertions that his enemies were part of a sinister, Satanic cult. It is notable that in his many diatribes against the Pope, Luther accused him of every imaginary Dionysian excess imaginable (depicting him as the Whore of Babylon in the woodcut below), yet remained curiously silent on the fact that Clement VII was part of a secretive mouse-worshipping sect. It was not this that aggravated him, it was the degeneration of that sect into a vehicle for mere degeneracy.

In addition to his prodigious work-rate in the production of pamphlets for general consumption, Luther also wrote secret manuals for confidants in his Reformed Cult of Penew-Nekhet. There are many texts purporting to be among this number, many of which are most likely Catholic forgeries. However, one genuine fragment has been found, a palimpsest from among many scraps of waste parchment unearthed at Wartsburg Castle:

We tell them that all men must be able to read the Bible themselves only so that they will believe with ever more vigour that what we tell them is their own belief. It is so much easier to redirect the prayer of one who thinks himself to be acting of his own accord than one who is reading from rote!

Luther’s ultimate project was to once again fuse royal and ecclesiastical power through the Cult: his brand of Protestantism lacked any of the egalitarianism of his contemporaries. When the lower classes of Germany rose up against their landlords in the Revolt of 1524-1526, partly inspired by a misinterpretation of his ideas, he quickly penned Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, in which he advised secular rulers to ‘kill as many of the blasphemers as is possible.’ In this he was entirely successful: when the smoke of the Reformation had cleared and the scores of bodies it had produced had been buried, Europe was full of Protestant princes eager to take the advice of Lutheran priests.

Having acquired a new, Protestant disguise, the Cult of Penew-Nekhet began to infiltrate as many organisations as possible: trade guilds, Freemasonry, the Illuminati, the newly formed United States government, the institutions of the French revolution, among others. Through these hosts it attempted to wipe out the temporal authority of its former, corrupted home, the Catholic Church, leaving the road clear for the new, invigorated Cult to dominate the world. Eventually, the Church was weakened to the extent that it became susceptible to re-infiltration: although the Cult never again controlled the Papacy, the Society of Jesus was eventually drawn into its influence. With the rise of the public sphere (and despite the Cult’s dominance in the media) secrecy became paramount; it is likely that at any one time there were no more than five hundred people alive who knew of the Cult’s true nature. A few of them can be confidently identified: Viscount Francis Bacon, Oliver Cromwell, Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon (whose coronation deliberately mirrored that of Charlemange), Benjamin Disraeli, the Rothschilds, Rockefeller, Mussolini, Rudolf Hess. Always seeking mass participation in its disguised rituals, prominent Cultists covertly engineered spectacles including the French revolutionary Terror and the Black Hole of Calcutta. The culmination of this new, murderous form of ritual was the First World War. The conflict was deliberately engineered by Cultists including Helmuth von Moltke, Leopold Berchtold and Dragutin Dimitrijević as an elaborately orchestrated pan-European rite of death and suffering. However, during its course something went disastrously wrong. The war, which was meant to be fought to an eternal stalemate, instead sparked a series of unplanned revolutions across the continent, starting with Russia in 1917. This was then followed by a second, yet more ruinous war from 1939, in which Cultists on all sides tried frantically to rein in the destruction to no great effect. A secret conference of high-level Cultists, terrified that the forces of global entropy would continue to erode at their hold on power, was held at Hückeswagen Castle in 1948 to determine a new direction. Most of the minutes and paperwork was destroyed immediately afterwards, but one charred scap of paper was discoved by Hans Ufer, a local peasant:

…maintien de la stase soviéto-américaine et de planifier W.D.
28: The policy of mass slaughter having failed, it is therefore RESOLVED that the full attentions of the Organisation will be given over to maintaining the Soviet-American stasis and to plan W.D.
28: Die Politik der Massenmord…

Ufer was convinced that the documented represented a Nazi plot to continue to enact racial policies, and attempted to bring it to the attention of Der Rhein-Arbeiter, a weekly Communist newspaper. Before it was able to go to press, the newspaper’s offices were gutted in a fire. The British occupying authorities mounted a brief investigation before summarily ruling out arson.

The last direct evidence for the continued existence of the Cult came with the publication of Nixon’s White House tapes:

NIXON: Last month I had to attend another of those things, that god damn Penny Necket thing, bowing in front of the mouse and everything. It’s the faggiest damn thing. The faggiest damn thing imaginable.
HALDEMAN: It’s unavoidable.
NIXON: I don’t like it. All the judges, all the senators, kissing the feet of the mouse for five minutes and then gossiping for fifty. I don’t like to see our guys chanting in Greek with the Democrats. Who isn’t in that thing? Erlichman, surely, I don’t think I saw him. They don’t take Jews, do they?
HALDEMAN: He’s in it, up to the eyeballs. Kissinger too.
NIXON: Jesus Christ.

From these transcripts it’s evident that the rites of the Cult were no longer considered a source of power, but, as in the Middle Ages, had degenerated to the status of fraternity rituals or the cod-spirituality of institutions such as the Bohemian Grove. However, their facile nature did not prompt a purist resurgence. Why? Because by the time of the Nixon administration, the old rituals and the more recent spectacle-terrors had been replaced by something far more effective – the Plan W.D. mentioned in the Hückeswagen fragment: Disneyland.

The Cult & Walt Disney

Walter Elias Disney was born in 1901 in Chicago to a family of disappointed California gold-panners. He was a shy, serious and studious child: rarely an entertainer, he spent much of his time alone, drawing. Only a small portion of his juvenalia has been released by the Walt Disney corporation (most of which covers patriotic themes); much of the rest is kept in a locked vault in Burbank, California. The only clue as to its content was provided in a quote by an unnamed Disney employee to Los Angeles Times reporter James McDowell in 1981:

“What can I say? He was a teenager when he drew that stuff. Most of it was your usual Tijuana Bible-type material. A lot of oversized breasts and so on. Engorged penises. And a few depictions of murder victims, sometimes at the same time… there’s some unpleasant stuff, sure. But nothing all that unusual.”

In 1917 Disney joined the Holy Order of Fellow Soldiers of Jacques DeMolay, a youth Freemasonry society. The same year he dropped out of high school to fight in WWI. Being only 16, he was rejected by the United States Army, and joined the Red Cross instead, arriving in France shortly before the Armistice. Stationed at a church in Saint-Cyr-l’Ecole, a Western suburb of Paris, he was at first highly enthusiastic. However, as described in Scott Gladdy’s unauthorised 2004 biography Walt Disney: A People’s History, his attention quickly turned to other matters:

At first Walt was much like many other young Americans abroad: he was a regular both at the local taverns and the brothels that had sprung up around the military academy. By February 1919 he was almost unrecognisable. Always a staunch Protestant, Walt had taken to spending most of his day in the Église Sainte-Julitte, a nearby church, in the company of the venerable local Jesuit priest Antoine Sourisse. “He changed all of a sudden,” his comrade Roy Michaels recalled later. “He stopped drinking, stopped whoring. He stopped driving the ambulances. We all thought he’d gone queer. But it wasn’t that. All of a sudden he had this great unity of purpose. It was kinda terrifying, to tell you the truth.”

On his return from France in 1919, Disney started drawing cartoon mice.

Why did the Cult choose Walter Disney to carry out the final stage of its plan? It may have been connected with his ancestry. Walt was a distant heir of Hughes d’Isigney, a Norman nobleman who participated in William the Conqueror’s 1066 invasion of England and claimed to be able to trace his lineage to the Merovingian kings of the Franks, and through them, to Jesus Christ. While it’s impossible to say for certain that Hugues was a member of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet, there are several indications. In Disney Through the Centuries, Adriana Villalobos’s exhaustive history of the Disney family, she describes how Hughes took a ‘fanatic interest in the precise procedure in which church services in his new fiefdom were carried out,‘ and seditious rumours spread among the local peasantry of a secret idol kept concealed in the d’Isigney castle. Eventually William (who as an illegitimate child would have been denied membership in the Cult) grew wary of his vassal and lent him a few hundred soldiers for a suicidal campaign, encouraging him to invade France and reclaim his rightful crown. However, it is equally possible that when Antoine Sourisse induced the young Walt Disney into the Cult it was simply because of his skills as a draughtsman and yearning for transcendence. After all, it had to happen to somebody.

The first Mickey Mouse cartoon was released in 1928. Steamboat Willie was an enormous popular and critical success; most audiences were too focused on the short animation’s sight gags to pick up on its disturbing subtexts. Mickey Mouse is a destructive outside agent who emerges into the ordered environment of the steamboat and comprehensively reorders it according to his own schematic principle: living animals are rendered inorganic tools, turned into musical instruments, forced by Mickey to play along to a piece of music that simultaneously emerges from them and is extraneous to them. Essentially, Steamboat Willie provides a coded account of the activities of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet since the Christianisation of the Roman Empire.

The Walt Disney company’s growing successes coincided with a sudden paranoia on the part of its namesake. Disney believed that many of his lower-level animators were Communist infiltrators; at times he believed himself to be the last bulwark against a Communist tide taking over Hollywood. As his delusions grew, so did his dream of Disneyland. As his friend and animator Ward Kimball recalled:

Walt was always deadly serious about Disneyland, far more so than any of the movies, even though they were raking in so much money. He insisted on planning every last detail. He was seriously fanatic about it… one time he said to me, this isn’t just a holiday park. This is something that’s gonna change the world. He was always talking about how Disneyland was going to beat the Reds and bring in a new age. Frankly, none of us had a clue what he was talking about.

Ground was broken on what would become the Disneyland site – a placid field of walnut trees in Orange County – in 1954. The entire project took only one year to complete; it was opened with a televised fanfare. Few at the time recognised Disneyland for what it was. Disneyland was never an interactive ‘park’ in which visitors were free to view the attractions at their own pace, but a show as tightly choreographed as any film. All the rides progress in a strictly linear fashion; the banter of the entertainers is entirely scripted; if you drop a piece of litter in the park an appropriately dressed actor (smocks for Fantasyland, jumpsuits for Tomorrowland) will appear from a hidden doorway and silently tidy it away. The guests are forbidden from reinscribing anything onto the text of Disneyland. In fact, the park is constructed in such a way that any deviation from the correct order of things is punished instantly – dozens of visitors who committed the sin of jumping out of cars on rides or trying to cross the lines between the Disneyland simulation and the vast ‘backstage’ areas have been crushed to death by various pieces of machinery. To survive, guests must be entirely passive. Their responses to the park are, at every moment, utterly controlled.

Disneyland is the ritual of the Cult of Penew-Nekhet on a grand, industrial scale.

The truth: Nazi rockets and tellurian dragons

In all this several questions remain unanswered. Why did the nomes of Egypt supplement their public religious devotions with another, secretive faith? Why did the Cult of Penew-Nekhet survive from the second millennium BCE to the present day, when so many other mystery religions faded away? What interest would a four thousand-year-old cult have in building an amusement park? And why build that park in Orange County, home of the US weapons industry?

Essentially, the central question is this: does Penew-Nekhet actually exist?

One of the chief engineers in the Disneyland project was the German rocket physicist Wernher von Braun (shown above with Walt Disney). Responsible for designing the Nazi V-2 rockets that were launched at the United Kingdom during the final stages of World War II, von Braum was brought to America in June 1945 as part of Operation Paperclip, the then-top secret relocation of Nazi scientists to the United States to work on missile programmes targeted at the Soviet Union. As well as being a gifted scientist von Braum was also a devoted mystic: under his leadership, research at the Heeresversuchsanstalt Peenemünde was carried out not only into guidance and propulsion systems for flying bombs but into the potential for the weaponisation of the occult. As well as séances and rituals carried out in Greek and Egyptian, captured French resistance fighters made to perform slave labour at the site’s factories claimed that the HVP team performed child sacrifices. In particular, von Braum was fascinated by the interior of the Earth, telling his friend and deputy Walter Thiel that ‘the quest for outer space and the quest for the subterranean world is one and the same thing.’ Like many Nazi occultists, von Braum believed there was life below the Earth’s crust; however, he did not ascribe to the hollow-earth theories popular at the time which held that the planet contains within it the mystical land of Hyperborea from which the Aryan races originate. Instead, he believed the chthonic world to be as profoundly un-human as the black reaches of space.

Among von Braum’s most prized possessions was a copy of De Interioribus Terrae, a short text by the 16th century mathematician, occultist, and early disciple of Luther’s reformed Penew-Nekhet Cult John Dee. After a discussion of the mystical nature of soil and its Demiurgean power to create life, Dee turns his attention to the centre of the Earth:

While no man of Faith can reason against the reality of Hell, it is evident to all learned Men that Hell does not exist below the Ground, no more than Heaven is to be found among the Clouds, and yet, as is well known, below the Soil there lies a great Heat, and a great Fire, as it is said in the Bible: where the Worm dieth not, and the Fire is not quenched. And indeed the Book is forever unerring, for in this Fire lives the Worm, called also Dragon, formed in delicate Crystal from solid Phlogiston, who with a noble Sweep of his Tail does traverse the Fire below our Seas faster than any Merchant-Ship, and who, far from being consigned to the Pit, is a Creature of Grace, and as Fire to Air or Mercury to Saturn, takes his Place as a Consort to the Angels.

Could this worm exist? Recent geophysical surveys (often suppressed by the government agencies and universities funding them) utilising sophisticated equipment such as the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility have detected fluxes and eddies in the Earth’s magma that are inconsistent with all known models of fluid dynamics, but that are explainable through the presence of large mobile organisms living within the mantle. The presence of life under the crust is not as implausible as it may seem: the mantle is home to untold billions of extremophile bacteria consuming nutrients dissolved in the molten rock. The liquid core of the Earth constitutes over 99% of its volume and much of it is entirely unknown to science; however it is possible to posit with some confidence that the tellurian dragons would have to be very large to survive in the heat of the mantle and to create the fluctuations observed by the ESRF – up to eight miles in length. Without any oxygen, their metabolism would function in a vastly different manner from that of life on the surface; they would certainly be silicon- rather than carbon-based. They would also be largely solitudinous, looping slowly around the Earth’s core in mournful sequestration – given the relative poverty of the subterranean ecosystem, it’s unlikely that a population of more than a hundred thousand could be supported. And given the great age of the Earth’s interior, it is entirely possible that at some point in their billions of years of evolution, the tellurian dragons attained sentience.

In almost all cultures there exist myths of giant worms or dragons, who are generally believed to breathe or in some other way be associated with fire. In ancient Egypt this place was taken by Penewap, a god of the underworld (and, more generally, of death and evil) represented as an enormous serpent. This was not his only form, however; Penewap was also believed to come to the earth’s surface to wreak havoc in the form of the mouse – the morphological similarities between penew and penewap hardly need mentioning. Could it be that the cultists of Penew-Nekhet, so obsessed with obscurity and representation, used the image of the mouse to disguise the true object of their worship?

If the Cult had a Secret that it guarded throughout its four-thousand year existence, it can only be that of how to communicate with – and control – Penew-Nekhet or the tellurian dragons. If contact were to take place, the cultists would find in their hands a weapon of unimaginable power. The dragons could obliterate any enemy: burst the ground from under their feet, send their cities tumbling into the abyss, immolate their armies with molten fire. Given their ability to churn the molten rock of the Earth’s core, they may even be able to affect the planet’s magnetic field, leaving a specific area vulnerable to a cascade of destructive cosmic radiation. Or, perhaps, our magnetic field could even be redirected, used to assault other planets in the solar system or beyond.

Given the ubiquity of dragon-myths across the planet, it is certain that the subterranean worms have, accidentally or not, forced their way into our world. It is not inconceivable that the parting of the Red Sea, the volcanic eruption that obliterated Minoan civilisation, and perhaps even the calamitous 1755 Lisbon earthquake were all precipitated by the Cult of Penew-Nekhet through its various attempts to gain the attention of tellurian monsters. But how can such communication be established? John Dee wrote:

The Worm hears no Prayer, though many who call themselves Witch or Sorcerer have offered up Entreaties to him, rather he understands the Language of all celestial Beings, that is, the Language of Mathematics, the Language of the Imagination, and the Language of Sympathy.

In all the permutations of the Cult’s rites, from private rituals to religious services to orgies of bloodshed to Disneyland, imagination and sympathy – or the emotive – have always been central; and these are precisely the qualities to which the dragons respond. The Cult has always attempted to form concentrated loci of high emotion. In much of its documented history this emotion was sorrow, terror, or abasement, but often accompanied by joy – the redemption of Communion, the cathartic bliss following the grain-burning. Conceivably it is the swing between two extreme emotional states that is most effective: witness the joy of the children as they enter the rides, and their fury as they are dragged away. The fact that Disneyland is aimed at children is significant: children experience emotional states far more intensely than adults; as such they are ideal vehicles for communicating with the worms. Like children, the dragons do not respond to erotic energy (they may reproduce asexually): this is why sexual or orgiastic cults from that of Dionysus to Crowley’s Satanism have sprung up and faded away in succession. To communicate with the dragons requires the assumption of a mindset that is entirely other and wholly unhuman – hence the austerity of the early rites, and the perverse hermaphrodite wholesomeness of Disneyland, filled with monstrous animal-headed figures.

At the same time though, the dragons, who with their cold silicon sentience can imagine no world other than that which they inhabit, are enormously responsive to the human power for imagination, fantasy, and deceit. The rites of the Penew-Nekhet Cult have throughout their history been based heavily on the projection of a hyperreality. The fascination with symbolism and the representative was not just a mechanism for maintaining secrecy: the Greek Cultists really believed that they had been transformed into peasants during the grain-burning rituals; the visitors to Disneyland are invited to really believe that they are in the presence of Mickey Mouse. The map becomes the territory – by imagining another reality, the Cult affects concrete change to this one.

What is Disneyland? Disnyland is a vast machine for the weaving of fiction and the production of human emotion. It was built away from Hollywood because it was never really part of the entertainment industry. It was always a weapon. It is the weapon. It is a signal-beacon for the underground monsters. They swarm there now, miles underneath southern California (perhaps accounting for the frequent seismological activity there), waiting for the Cult to give them their orders. Now it remains only for the Disneyland weapon to be used.

Conclusion

I have recorded the truth. Not in its entirety. My account is, of course, an unacceptably Eurocentric one: it would be absurd to assume that some form of the Penew-Nekhet cult has not developed in China (the fact that the Hong Kong Disneyland is, uniquely, owned by a Chinese corporation and licensed from Disney may well be significant) and the mass human sacrifices in the Aztec Empire have the faint odour of the cult about them. I’ve not been able to work out the exact nature of the cult’s Plan – they have, after all, already been in effective control of the world at several points in history. Perhaps the Disneyland weapon is not meant for use on Earth at all; perhaps the cult is about to drag us, unknowing, into an interplanetary war. But what I’ve written will have to do. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me now. The cult of Penew-Nekhet has guarded its secrets for four thousand years; it has in the past carried out acts of horrific violence to further its aims. It doesn’t matter. The truth is more important.

My hands have stopped shaking.

I went to Chernobyl

Chernobyl is not how you’d expect. By the time you go, you’ve done your research: you know that the nuclear power station there leaked a cloud of radioactive gas that swept over an entire continent. You know that Prypiat, a town of fifty thousand people, was evacuated and has been abandoned for twenty-five years. And the phrases you hear in connection with it – ghost town, nuclear wasteland, zone of alienation – conjure images of broad lifeless expanses of concrete and dead earth, of barren inhospitality, of a fractured landscape so unearthly it might be a sort of embassy of the moon. And as the coach takes you from Kiev into the contaminated zone, you are shown an absurdly lurid documentary about the disaster itself – although perhaps its Discovery-Channel sensationalism is perfectly appropriate for the absurdity of what happened there. A scientific experiment carried out by Soviet physicists at Chernobyl Reactor 4 that went horrifically wrong and almost threatened to wipe out half of Europe: it’s the stuff of pulp science fiction and disaster movies; that it actually happened seems somehow unreal. And you’ve learned about the heroism of the helicopter pilots who were rushed over from Afghanistan to drop sandbags onto the burning reactor and who all died from the radiation – not immediately, they didn’t suddenly slump lifeless over their controls, helicopters didn’t corkscrew out of the sky and smash into the ground with the cathartic finality of a Hollywood explosion; they died later, in a Moscow hospital, sickly-pale and emaciated, deep gouges cut into their flesh by the invisible subatomic enemy.

And then you see the reactor itself, its mangled mess of broken pipes and twisted vessels covered by an enormous concrete sarcophagus, a vast tombstone that forms a more sublime memorial for the victims of the tragedy than any of the slightly tacky plasticky monuments scattered around the area. It was built with no real consideration for architecture, the concrete blocks were assembled haphazardly, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, to contain the leaking radiation, but it does in fact look exactly like a cathedral. The faded smokestack forms the spire, it has its long nave, its square pillars like flying buttresses, its transept of scaffolding. It is the cathedral of the Enlightenment, a temple built to mollify the eschatonic power of the atom. Like the kaaba, or the kadosh hakadoshim, it contains a light so fierce that it would burn away any man who entered; and those who visit must undergo ritual cleansing – except here, instead of being anointed with oil, you press your hands against one of the large Geiger counters that ring the site and pray that the little light turns green.

But when you come to Prypiat, the ghost town, it’s almost impossible to draw a line of causality between the horrors of the disaster, the starkness of the power plants, and the organic lushness of what you see before you. Prypiat isn’t a barren wasteland, it is full of life. The forest has swallowed it up – and rather than being grim or menacing, it has an air of complete serenity. It’s impossible to find any sense of urbanity here: the central square is like a brief clearing in which some spindly plants still grow; what were once broad avenues now seem like country lanes. It’s as if the town had not been built and then abandoned, but had grown by itself in the middle of the forest without any human involvement at all: as if the buried strata of rock and iron, jealous of the autotelic vivacity of the plants above, had decided to organise themselves into roads and buildings, bursting out through the soil, twisting into new shapes to form a pre-ruined city. Its edges are frayed not because it has been dilapidated, but because the natural world rarely works in straight lines; even when inside the buildings, the layer of broken glass that crunches underfoot seems as innocuous as the litter of a forest floor.

Only when you go further from the bright concourses of the abandoned buildings does this illusion shatter, because every room in every building you visit is full of stuff: human stuff, notebooks, trinkets, portraits, music sheets, reminders that fifty thousand people once lived here, and now there is nobody. In a municipal swimming pool, the diving-board still arches gracefully over a tiled pit filled only with broken glass and debris. In the palace of culture, books lie torn and scattered across the shelves: a moment of panic, frozen. In the rusted tangle of what was once a funfair, you find a child’s shoe on the tarmac: only one.

The most doleful place of all is the school. The floor and tables in every classroom are carpeted with papers: essays, projects, drawings, exercise books half-filled, textbooks half-deteriorated. The little artworks of children who either had to grow up in a foreign city or were denied that chance by the radioactive dust. Things that once held so much importance to some unknown person are now just another fleck in a sea of nuclear debris. Worse still are the toys, the dolls and soldiers that slump forlornly in dusty corners or gleefully display their pathos on desk tops. Then, at the top of a flight of stairs, two crates full of gas masks: a brute intrusion of the catastrophe itself into this poignant little mausoleum.


These children lived in a different world. Hammer-and-sickles decorate the corners of their drawings; in one of their art classrooms you find a student’s piece: a lino print of a stylised missile, superimposed with the words нет бомби. The Soviet Union of 1986 was not a worker’s paradise, but the students of Prypiat were still taught that theirs was a society dedicated to the emancipation of humanity, the erasure of alienation, the resolution of antagonisms, to peace and socialism. It was no such thing, of course, but here and there it made its successes, and in Prypiat you can gain the tiniest of glimpses into the Soviet Union as seen from the inside: not as the menacing bear spreading its claws across Europe and Asia, with nuclear warheads tipping its canines, but as a place where a trace of the October Revolution’s optimism and hope for a better society still lingered on. A failure, yes, ultimately, but one at least still haunted by its own spectre.

Back, then, to the prosperous swarm of Kiev. In Independence Square, an old woman, shawled, hunched over, her clothes stained, her legs mottled with purple veins, her arms dappled with sagging skin, the muck of the streets ingrained in the creases on her face, carrying a stinking plastic bag by one shaking withered talon-like hand, shambles from bin to bin, rummaging for glass bottles. Above, the billboards blare out their stern commandments: to enjoy, to be lovin’ it. This is the victory of the West, this is the triumph of freedom. Here, in the bright liberal business-friendly centre of the New Europe, you can find the true ruins of Communism. In the sylvan tranquillity of Chernobyl, something of it still lives.

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